§ MR. FAWCETT
in rising to move—That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleaded to defend the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, so that the Forest may be preserved as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public,said, that the subject to which he desired to direct attention was one of great importance, because the decision of Parliament upon it would involve the question whether one of the most important open spaces in England should continue to be enjoyed by the public, or whether a policy was to be adopted which might facilitate the enclosure of all the forests in the kingdom. It would be necessary for him to give a very brief history of the Forest of Epping. It originally formed part of very extensive grounds over which the Crown possessed rights of hunting. Whilst these rights existed nothing could be done which would in the slightest degree interfere with this sport; no coverts could be destroyed, and no ground could be broken up. Further so long as these forestal Crown rights were maintained, it was impossible for any part of the land to be enclosed, and the Forest would consequently remain an open space where, by the permission of the Crown, the public could freely wander, But, as everyone knew, the Forest was being so rapidly encroached upon that, if something were not done to put a stop to this proceeding, the Forest would soon cease to exist as a place of recreation for the people. All the facts which he should lay before the House would be drawn from official sources, and the first document to which he should refer was the Report of the Land Revenue Commissioners made in 1793. At that time the Forest consisted 247 of 9,000 acres, and the Commissioners said in very strong language that it was most important that nothing should be done to countenance its enclosure, and especially so because of its close proximity to the metropolis. That recommendation, however, appeared to have attracted but little attention, for during the next half-century the Forest was constantly encroached upon, and there was too much reason to fear that these encroachments were encouraged by the officers of the Crown, whose duty it was to protect the Forest. The result of this course of proceeding was that in 1850 the Forest had been reduced from 9,000 to 7,000 acres. In 1848 a Select Committee of the House was appointed to inquire into the management of the Woods and Forests. To be perfectly candid he was bound to confess that their Report was generally in favour of disafforestation. It must, however, be recollected that associated with this recommendation there was a very strong clause relating to Epping Forest, recommending that everything possible should be done to preserve a portion of that Forest for the enjoyment and recreation of the public. This being so, it would be impossible to quote this Report as a valid argument against him, because their stipulation that a portion of that Forest should be reserved to the public had been taken no notice of, and the result was that the extent of the Forest had been reduced by more than one-half, and that it was being further reduced every year, while no steps whatever were being taken to reserve any portion of it for the recreation of the public. There was too much reason to fear that before many years the whole Forest would have been enclosed, without a single acre being reserved for public purposes. In 1849 a Royal Commission was appointed, at the head of which was Lord Portman; and their Report bore so strongly in favour of this Motion that he might almost rest satisfied with quoting it, and allowing the House to form its own conclusion upon the matter. That Report emphatically recommended that the Crown rights over Epping Forest should be defended, observing that no injustice to private proprietors could result from the adoption of such a course, inasmuch as they had taken the lands under the original grants with the full knowledge of the existence 248 of the Crown rights, which had always been recognized as attaching to the property, and had affected its price when sold. He thought that had the recommendations of this Commission been more generally known to the House, the events of subsequent years would never have occurred. In 1851 an Act was unfortunately passed, under which the Royal parks were handed over to the Commissioners of Works, on the understanding that they were not to be devoted to purposes of revenue, but that public money should be voted for their adornment and maintenance for the recreation of the public. The other Crown lands, on the contrary, were handed over to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who interpreted the intention of Parliament to be that the property and the Crown rights should be devoted entirely to the purposes of public revenue. The result was that between 1851 and 1863 the Crown rights over no less than 4,000 acres out of the 7,000 of which Epping Forest consisted at the former date were sold, and thus the public had for ever lost their hold upon this vast tract of country. He was aware that it would be objected that where the Crown rights over land were sold enclosure did not necessarily follow, but he should meet that argument by contending that where the Crown rights were sold the great security against enclosure was lost. Where the Crown possessed rights over laud the property could not be enclosed without its consent, but when once those rights were sold the question rested simply between the lord of the manor and the copyholders, and the House could understand what a slender chance there was of the lands not being enclosed. It was true that the Master of the Rolls, in his recent decision in the case of Berkhampstead Common, had shown the lords of the manor that they were not at all powerful in the matter; but still, if the Crown rights over the Forest were sold, the only slender security the public would have against its enclosure would be the rare accident that among the copyholders would be found one of ample means and possessed of sufficient public spirit to cause him to enter into long and expensive litigation, in order to prevent the enclosure of the land. Now, what was the magnificent sum the Government realized by the sale of the rights of the Crown over the 249 4,000 acres of Epping Forest to which he had alluded? Would the House believe that £18,603 16s. 3d. was the whole result of this miserable piece of contemptible economy. Instead of selling the Crown rights over public land, why did not some ardent friend of retrenchment seek to abolish certain sinecure offices, such as that of the Lord Privy Seal, by the abolition of which they might secure ten times as much for the Exchequer of the country. Happily, however, through the intervention of an hon. Member who formerly sat on the opposite side of the House, this polity of selling the rights of the Crown was summarily checked. In 1863, Mr. Peacocke carried in that House an Address to the Queen, praying her that she would not sell any more Crown rights over land within fifteen miles of the metropolis—so as not to facilitate the enclosure of such lands. He mentioned this circumstance to show that this was not in any way a party question. In the same year a Select Committee was appointed, over which a Gentleman who also was no longer a Member of that House presided. That Committee recommended either that the Crown rights might be defended or that such a plan of enclosure might be originated as would effect the preservation of certain portions of the land in the public interest. But of neither of these recommendations had any notice been taken. Associated with these recommendations was another, by which the Government was reminded that it was their duty to resist all encroachments which had been made on lands the Crown rights over which had not been sold. It curiously happened that a gentleman had since that period set the Crown rights at defiance, and, having refused to purchase those rights over the property, had enclosed upwards of 300 acres of the Forest, cutting down the trees and ordering the Crown officer off the land. From that hour to the present no notice had been taken of these illegal acts; and he had been permitted to enjoy the property unmolested. In 1865 another Select Committee was appointed, whose recommendations were of a still more decisive character. They recommended that everything should be done to prevent encroachments on the Forest, and they expressed their regret that the encroachments that had been made up to the time had not been re- 250 sisted. They further declared their opinion that the rights of the Crown should not be devoted to purposes of revenue, but should be upheld with the view of promoting the enjoyment and recreation of the public. The Report of that Committee led to the passing of the Metropolis Commons Act, which was introduced by the right hon. Member who now sat for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple). In the course of the debate upon that Bill a question was put to the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister, by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke), as to what he intended should be done with the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, and the right hon. Gentleman gave the clear and important reply that, with the entire sanction of the Queen, those rights would be dealt with in accordance with the wishes that had been so frequently expressed in Parliament. During the same year the present Prime Minister proved the sincerity of the pledge he had given by introducing the Crown Lands Bill, a clause in which transferred Epping Forest from the Office of Woods and Forests to the Office of Works; and the result of the passing of those two measures—namely, the Metropolis Commons Act and the Crown Lands Act—was to enable Epping Forest to be brought under separate management, and to give the officials of the latter office the power of applying public money to the maintenance and defence of the Crown rights over it. The Forest was regarded as ail the more secure when in 1868 the right hon. Gentleman who had done so much for Epping Forest became Prime Minister, and had for his Colleagues so many who could be ranked among the most persistent and eloquent defenders of popular rights. But the House would scarcely believe, and no one would be more incredulous of the statement than the First Lord of the Treasury, that at no time had the Forest been in so much peril as at the present moment. He ventured to think that deputations which had waited upon Members of the Administration on the subject made a grave mistake in not waiting upon the Prime Minister himself. In May last Mr. Layard told a deputation he sympathized with them—that he was extremely anxious for the preservation of the Forest. But he evidently feared the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and 251 accordingly another deputation, in a rash moment, perhaps, sought an interview, on the 2nd of August, with that dreaded functionary; but as they left Downing-street there was not one of them who did not feel that Mr. Layard's fears were well founded. Not only were parochial authorities, clergymen, and distinguished barristers most unceremoniously treated, but, strange as it may appear, the gentleman who came in for the worst of the Chancellor's sarcasm was the distinguished statesman who is now Prime Minister. The members of the deputation, after having been assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would do nothing whatever to defend the Crown rights, and would take no notice whatever of the recommendations of two Select Committees and a Royal Commission, as well as of the answer by the Prime Minister to hon. Members, went on to say that the rig] its of the Crown could not be defended. But the members of the deputation thought much of the answer by the Prime Minister, for it was to the effect that an arrangement had been made, with the entire consent of Her Majesty, which would bring the forestal rights of the Crown out of conflict with the general interest of the community, and enable them to be dealt with in a manner satisfactory to all the parties concerned. When reminded of this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, characterized it as very oracular; and when a member of the deputation exclaimed that the Prime Minister was too great, too generous, and too good not to fulfil a promise he had made, the Chancellor rejoined,—"I don't understand what it means; it was evidently intended to please every one, the lords of the manor included." He (Mr. Fawcett) trusted that before the evening was over the Prime Minister, who had done so much for the Forest, would give them some assurance for the future which even the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not stigmatize as either meaningless or oracular. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told the deputation that those forestal rights were a remnant of feudalism, and antagonistic to the spirit of the ago; and went on to lay down the principle that it would be unjust to individuals to enforce the right for a different purpose from that for which it was originally granted. 252 According to this doctrine, it would be perfectly proper to maintain the Crown rights over Epping Forest if it were required as a hunting ground for the Queen, but not right for Her Majesty to maintain her rights, when the object was to keep up a place where thousands and tens of thousands of her subjects found healthful recreation. The adoption of the doctrines advanced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would revolutionize the whole system of land tenure, for everyone knew there was no such thing as absolute ownership of land. Formerly the possession of land was always accompanied by reciprocal duties. Owners of estates were bound to perform military service; but the tenure of the land did not cease with this obligation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer disposed of the rights of the Crown as obsolete because the Monarch did not hunt in Epping Forest; but were the purposes for which the lordships of the manors were originally created less obsolete? Lords of the manors originally discharged certain military duties, the necessity for which had long since ceased. They were originally, also, dispensers of justice, and their courts were the common legal tribunals of the country, but those courts had long since been abolished. He trusted Parliament would not be guilty of the anomaly of passing a special law to give the Irish a better hold on the land—or, as the common phrase was, to root the Irish people more deeply in the soil—and, at the same time, straining the law to prevent the people from wandering over the little land still left for them in any sense to enjoy. It was almost insulting to a great nation for a Minister to suppose that the cost of maintaining these Crown rights would be any obstacle when the deepest interests of the people were involved. Mr. Godfrey Lushington had given his opinion that the cost of defending the suit would not amount to more than £1,500, and that such a suit, if entered into, would almost certainly be successful; and he had also pointed out that one successful suit would prevent future encroachments. Should the House hesitate about £1,500 when, in a few hours, twice as much was spent in bursting guns and destroying targets? Epping Forest was the product of centuries, and no amount of money could create or restore it. He 253 had been conversing with that distinguished minister, the Rev. Septimus Hansard, who had told him that if Epping Forest were not saved he would be inclined to give up his work in the East-end in despair. Would the House commit the anomaly of allowing the destruction of Epping Forest and yet passing a Bill in the vain attempt to check drunkenness by revising the licensing system? Not 200 Licensing Bills would have the slightest effect in preventing intemperance if the people were deprived of means for healthy recreation. He earnestly hoped that the Government would accept this Motion, and he should not have introduced it at that early period of the Session if he had not felt that the question was one of great urgency. Virtually the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given permission to whoever would to appropriate the Crown rights. He (Mr. Fawcett) therefore called upon the House to support him in his endeavours to reverse the dictum. If the Government resisted the Motion, he would ask the independent Members of that House to support him in a Resolution, in which the interests of the public generally, and the poor particularly, were vitally concerned. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ MR. BUXTON
, in seconding the Motion, said he believed he was the first person in that House who had called public attention to that subject some years ago, at the time when Messrs. Howard and Gore were adopting a most ruinous policy with respect to the Crown lands. He was not surprised that the House had smiled at the humoreus description given by his hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett) of the interview of the deputation from the East of London with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject; but it was a calamity, and no laughing matter with the people of that locality to be deprived of a Forest which in former days, and until quite lately, was their greatest source of enjoyment and almost their greatest source of improvement. He had lived some years on the confines of the Forest, and he had never enjoyed any sight more than that of the crowds of people who thronged the roads upon a fine Sunday, with their wives and children, for the purpose of enjoying healthful recreation and the natural beauties of Epping 254 Forest. Since that time, owing to the miserable petty economy of the Government, portions of that Forest had been destroyed. He believed, however, that the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who, with an entire absence of public spirit, had sold Crown rights to the prejudice of the public, were the real offenders. The Crown rights of that most beautiful part of the Forest at Wanstead, the nearest part to London—about five miles and a half from the heart of Whitechapel—had been sold to Lord Mornington for £1,500, but he need not say that they were worth a hundred times that sum to the metropolis. Victoria Park was, no doubt, a great boon to the people at the East-end of London, but Epping Forest stood alone for rural enjoyment within a short walk of a densely-populated district. Still, notwithstanding much had been taken from the Forest, much still remained for the people; but if the policy inaugurated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were not given up the Forest would be entirely destroyed. If even £10,000 or £20,000 was spent in litigation to prevent encroachments, the country would be repaid a thousand-fold by the growth of a healthier and more I moral people; he trusted, therefore, the Prime Minister would really give his attention to the subject, and set at rest the legitimate fears of a large district in; the East-end of London.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, proving that She will be graciously pleased to defend the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, so that the Forest may be preserved as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public."—(Mr. Fawcett.)
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
was constrained to add a few words in support of a proposition which was certainly not a party question, but one affecting the innocent recreation, morality, and education of hundreds of thousands of our fellow-townsmen. His hon. Friends had scarcely laid as much stress as they should have done upon the peculiar claims of the East-end of London. The health and comfort of the enormous population of the metropolis—a town of 3,000,000 inhabitants—was daily becoming more and more an Imperial question, for the simple reason that if London went wrong the whole body must suffer. 255 In the face of its enormously increasing population the East-end of London—a huge city in itself, in position and in circumstances widely different from the West, and daily spreading eastward—as far as West Ham, Stratford, and Barking, was wholly deficient in public means of recreation, with the exception of Victoria and Greenwich Parks—the latter over the river—while the West-end, not so destitute or unhealthy, had, in addition to the familiar parks, Kew and Richmond and Bushey. The West-enders had a comparatively healthy and pleasant general country into which to wander; the Eastern inhabitants had only the less salubrious and less agreeable flats of Essex. In face of such a difference it would not be strange, though regrettable, if a sense of injustice were generated in the East-end. The parks in Paris were all smaller and were more easily accessible, but the Imperial Government, not content with the Bois de Boulogne, had supplied those Parisians who stand in the place of our Eastenders with a new park at the Buttes de Chaumont, and have emparked the Parisian Epping Forest, the Bois de Vincennes; so much for Imperialism: tinder a Republican regime the Government of New York have formed, at enormous expense, the great Central Park of 800 acres for the recreation of its rapidly growing population. With these examples before the House, and with the wants of the East-end plainly before them, he trusted that no pedantic precedent or more miserable economy would induce them to make themselves contemptible in the sight of civilized nations. If the Government did not accept the Motion, he trusted the House would pass it by a preponderating majority from both sides.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
said, he trusted no one representing the Government would say he did not intend resisting encroachments on the rights of the Crown merely because he did not choose to pay the lawyer's bill; and yet there was nothing against maintaining these forestal rights except the cost. It was asserted that these Crown rights were obsolete, but how could this be when their existence was actually at this moment preventing the enclosure of a vast quantity of land? The custom of the Sovereign chasing the deer in the forest was doubtless obsolete; and the 256 pleasure enjoyed by those who followed the Sovereign and witnessed the sport had passed away, but the recreation continued, though the character of it had changed; and the enjoyment of free passage over the forest remained after the hunting had ceased, and thus thousands of people to-day did enjoy such recreation as the forest could afford. He was sure our beloved Sovereign, though not desirous to follow the custom of her predecessors by chasing the deer, would derive the greatest pleasure from the knowledge that great numbers of her subjects were still enjoying recreation from her forestal rights. The lords of the manor could not complain of privileges exercised under forestal rights, for those rights were antecedent to the rights of the lords of the manor, and the ancient grants to lords from the Crown had reserved the forestal rights. With regard to Epping Forest, there were three parties who possessed rights over the land—namery, the lords of the manor, the copyholders and freeholders, and the Crown. Why, then, should the Crown withdraw its rights, and thereby increase the value of the rights of the other two parties? These forestal rights were treated by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests as matters of revenue, and their mode of treatment was, in his opinion, unstatesmanlike, and wrong. Forestal rights were not originally intended to produce revenue. The way in which the Commissioners regarded the matter was quite contrary to the opinion of the House of Commons in 1863, when a Resolution was passed to the effect that no money should be taken for these, and in 1866, when his right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister proposed a measure with the avowed object of removing these forestal rights from the control of a Department which treated them as a source of revenue, and transferring them to the Department which is charged with the employment of the public money for the general recreation of the people. Consequently Parliament, by the recommendation of the Prime Minister himself, had removed this question from the narrow ground of financial obligation; and he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not make any retrograde step. Was not the money given to the lawyers to plead this cause exceedingly well spent if it resulted in securing for the masses of the poor 257 people of the metropolis the immense enjoyment derivable from the beauty of the Forest? Again, from a national point of view, he should be sorry to see the Forest destroyed, for it was not in the power of man to restore it. You may make parks and gardens, but you cannot make primitive forests. Supposing that the present Motion were acceded to, and that the Government were willing to take the proper steps to defend the rights of the Crown, one of the two courses recommended by the Committee of 1863 might be adopted. One of these recommendations was to endeavour to maintain the whole ground permanently open for the recreation of the people, in conjunction with the rights of the lords of the manor and copyholders; the other to come to a mutual agreement with the lords of the manor and the copyholders that a considerable portion of the Forest should be preserved as national property for ever, and that the remainder should become their property in severalty. If the latter course were adopted it would be nobody's interest to litigate with the Crown, while by mutual agreement the public would get the benefit of such a portion of the Forest as might be deemed equivalent to the rights which the Crown had inherited and now possessed. He trusted the Government would not allow matters to continue in their present condition, for if an impression got abroad that the Crown would not defend its rights people would naturally be induced to encroach upon them. He should give his support to the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, he had introduced the deputation that waited upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer last autumn, and he wished the House to know that that deputation was greatly disappointed at being met with the arguments referred to by the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this Motion. They thought that enough had been already done by the action of this House, borne out, as it had been, by the language of the present Prime Minister when Chancellor of the Exchequer, to encourage them to hope that the Government would, in the course of the present Session, propose some scheme for preserving Epping Forest for the public. The deputation had no desire to disturb existing arrangements, but would have been perfectly satisfied with maintaining in- 258 tact, for the benefit of the public, the remaining unenclosed portions, which consisted of many thousand acres. The deputation relied, and he hoped not in vain, upon the recommendations of the Committee of 1865, by which the forestal rights of the Crown would be maintained without regard to the question of revenue being allowed to interfere, and the present extent of forest land preserved from future enclosure. He hoped the approbation with which the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) had been received in that House would induce the Government to adopt it, and prevent further encroachments.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, he wished to remind the House that the Department of Woods and Forests had distinctly stated that they had nothing to do with the recreation of the people, and that their only duty was to turn everything they could into money. He hoped the gentlemen sitting at Whitehall would not be allowed, for the sake of a few pounds, to set the wishes of this House at defiance, and destroy the enjoyment of the people, as had been done in the case of Blackheath and other commons.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he thought the Commissioners of Woods and Forests had discharged, in an exemplary manner, the duties which Parliament had imposed upon them. They had regularly laid their Reports before the House, and no one who read those Reports could come to the conclusion that they had done wrong. What was now asked was, for the House to do indirectly what it ought to do directly. It would be, no doubt, very desirable to secure all unenclosed ground near the metropolis for the benefit of the people, but that result was not likely to be attained by going to law with the lords of the several manors. Litigation, which the present Motion would tend to produce, might not, improbably, lead to a highly unsatisfactory result, as it had done in the case of Leicester Square. If they went to law they would have to travel back into all the old forest rights and claims; and the securing to the Crown its rights did not of necessity establish the right of the public to go over every part of Epping Forest whenever they pleased. The better course would be to endeavour to promote an agreement between all the parties interested.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he felt sure that everyone who had heard the debate must feel that the object sought by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), and by those who had supported him was a most commendable one, and he for one most heartily sympathized with his hon. Friend's endeavour to obtain for the benefit of the public the preservation of such a beautiful tract of country as was to be found in Epping Forest. At the present time, too, it appeared to him more than ordinarily desirable that any such object should, if possible, be attained, to remedy the results of a certain modern exclusiveness. Many hon. Members who lived in the country could testify to the fact that many beautiful spots which, when they were boys, were free and open spaces, had now been enclosed. He, therefore, approached the consideration of the question without the smallest desire to throw any impediment in the way of what his hon. Friend sought to attain, and certainly with no want of sympathy with the object which his hon. Friend had in view. Indeed, speaking for himself, if it were true that any rights of the Crown had been interfered with, in which the subjects of the Crown shared, and if it could be shown that by a simple and cheap mode the Crown could maintain its own rights, and by maintaining" its own rights maintain practically and effectively the rights of its subjects at the same time, he should decidedly approve the interference of the Crown. Indeed, he would go further, and say that if the rights of the Crown were of such a character that they could be exchanged for something of substantial value—as, for instance, if the Crown, by parting with its rights over the 3,000 acres to which his hon. Friend had referred, could obtain 300 acres elsewhere of open space, it would be a sensible and wise thing to do so. But he would ask what it was that the hon. Member for Brighton was calling upon the Government to do, and point out to the House the difficulties which presented themselves in any attempt to adopt such a course of action as that recommended by his hon. Friend. They were asked, not to maintain any rights of the Crown in which the subject was entitled to share, or in which he had the slightest interest, but they were asked to maintain certain rights of the Crown at very great expense and with very doubtful 260 issue—in which the subject had no share whatever, which would, if enforced at all, have to be enforced in opposition to the claims of the lords of the manor, of copyholders, and of others—claims which were perfectly defensible, which the proprietors had vested in them, and of which they could not be deprived except by the ordinary mode of passing an Act of Parliament and by granting them compensation, or by adopting those friendly contracts following upon negotiations with which the Members of that House were all so familiar. Hon. Gentlemen, perhaps, were not quite aware what a forest really was. A forest, under the old law, was a precinct which was cut off from the rest of the country, subject to a very peculiar and onerous code of laws, and so reserved for the hunting of the King, and the King alone, of certain beasts of game, harts and hinds, wolves and boars. Those were the animals which the King, by the old forest laws, had an especial right to hunt, and it was for that purpose that forests were set aside. Hon. Gentlemen would find, if they consulted John Manwood and other recondite authorities on this matter, that the King with the great nobles who followed in his train, and those only to whom he gave special licence, had any right to hunt in these forests. As far as he could make out, the rights possessed by the King were four in number. He had a right to fill these forests with game; he could insist upon the maintenance of sufficient cover and browse for them to feed upon; thirdly, he had a right to exact the strict observance of the fence month, from fifteen days before to fifteen days after the feast of St. John the Baptist, during which time, it was said, the hinds dropped their young. He did not know when the wolves and wild swine dropped theirs. During that period the foresters were to go up and down the forest, and any man found within the forest would be brought before the verderers and severely punished, or, if he tried to escape, powers were given to raise the hue and cry until he was caught. The only other right that he could discover was a right to prevent such enclosures being made as would interfere with the leaping of horses and game over them, or the passing through of the wolves or boars. With that exception, any other enclosures might, he believed, be made without infringing 261 the King's rights. He was speaking in the hearing of many hon. Gentlemen who were as well, or probably better, acquainted with the subject than he was, and he believed that they would bear him out in saying that that was a fair and accurate statement of what were called the forestal rights of the Crown, [Mr. BUXTON: Has not the Crown a right to cut wood?] Certainly not. The wood was not the property of the Crown. What they were dealing with was a case where the Crown was not the lord of the manor. In the New Forest, and others, where the soil was the property of the Crown, the Crown, besides its forestal rights, exercised the rights which appertained to the lord of the manor. But it was entirely different when the rights of the Crown were merely forestal. In these cases the lords of the manor might, he apprehended, cut wood without stint as long as they left sufficient to afford cover for the game. Wolves and boars, they knew, had disappeared, and a great deal could be done in the way of cutting at Epping Forest without depriving the game of sufficient to browse. Practically speaking, in a forest where the King was not the lord of the soil, where no deer and no beasts were to be found, the rights of the Crown were of the most shadowy description. Further, too, these rights were exceedingly difficult to enforce, for, as he believed, offences against the forest laws could only be punished by the forest tribunals and forest authorities; and for the purpose of enforcing these forest rights, if they existed, they would have to bring into existence a number of those obsolete tribunals whose judgments might not be particularly impartial, or if impartial not particularly enlightened. It was only, so far as he knew, where the Crown, was lord of the manor that such forest rights of any practical value could be enforced. He believed he had shown that what the Government were asked to do was to undertake a task of extreme difficulty, and one which, if undertaken, would not bring about the result which his hon. Friend desired. Some hon. Members might remember the case of the "Queen against Hallett," in which proceedings were taken by the Crown in the Court of Exchequer to enforce its forestal rights by information of intrusion. The practical result was that many thousands of pounds were ex- 262 pended, and at last Mr. Hallett got tired of the business, paid £100, and a verdict was taken by consent, and there was an end of the matter; he was not restrained from doing the same thing next day. Of course the Crown could not be expected to go on spending public money at a great rate in difficult, expensive, and most doubtful litigation with lord of the manor after lord of the manor, whose direct interest it was to act on all the rights which they believed, and probably truly believed, belonged to them. Those observations he made to show the House what was the real state of the case. If the House, after hearing that, were still of opinion that this matter was to be proceeded with, of course it was not for him to object; he had no direct interest as Solicitor General in preventing the carrying on of litigation on the part of the Crown, which might involve the expenditure of a great many thousand pounds, some miserable few of which would pass into the pockets of the Law Officers for the time being. But, seriously, it was his duty to point out what was the real state of the law, that the House might not vote on the question without understanding exactly what it was about. There were other modes of proceeding which it was not for him to suggest—as, for example, by individual negotiation, or by dealing with the matter in some general measure. It might be suggested that the owners of large properties or of properties of any size, within certain limits of certain great towns, as their property got enormously enhanced in value by the wealth of those towns and by the increase of population, should come under some general law obliging them to reserve certain portions of their land for the benefit of those from whom their estates had derived that largely increased value. Again, though the enforcing of utterly obsolete and useless rights would be of no effect, some other mode might be devised by which the Government might bring about through negotiation what it was utterly hopeless to bring about by law. These, however, were not matters properly within his province, and having stated as far as he was able the legal aspect of the question, he left the House to pronounce its decision.
MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
said, he had no doubt that the disquisition of the learned Solicitor General, however interesting in itself, would be most un- 263 satisfactory to the inhabitants of the East-end of London. The people saw a large tract of land which they and their forefathers had long used for recreation gradually passing away from them, while the Government declared that their hands were so tied that they could not interfere to prevent it. The Crown Lands Commissioners had entirely misapprehended their position, and always assumed that they were above the control of the Government of the day, looking, moreover, on the public as their natural enemy. They had sold the rights of the Crown for a very small sum, which enabled the owners of the land in the district to exercise rights of much larger value than the money paid for them, and which, but for the improvident sale of those rights to them by the Crown, they could not possibly have exercised. It was for those who had parted with the rights of the Crown so indiscreetly to devise the means of protecting the people in the enjoyment of their accustomed rights. He hoped the Prime Minister would not be led away by the Solicitor General on any question of bears or wolves, but if he could not quite see his way to agreeing to the present Motion, would at least recognize the duty resting on the Government of preserving these lands for the recreation of the people of the east of London.
Sir, I am quite sure the House will not concur with my hon. Friend who has just sat down in disparaging the statement of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General. It appears to me that it was absolutely part of the duty of the Government—and a duty performed with remarkable clearness, great ability, and a singular absence of all legal pedantry in the speech of my learned Friend—to state to the House the legal aspect of this question, that it might understand, so far as the Government know, what can and what cannot be done in a legal point of view in the matter. But having said this much, and not being prepared to depart in the letter or the spirit from the speech of my learned Friend, I hold that there is no reason why my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) should be dissatisfied with that speech or with the action of the Government. I hope that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), nor anyone else, will think it 264 shows on my part a gross neglect of public duty if I admit that, since the period when the answer to which he referred was given by me in the House of Commons, in 1866, my attention has been very much engrossed by other matters, and has not been directed to the prosecution of this question. Two and a half years were thus allowed to pass, when the late Government came into Office, and on our accession to Office again another year was allowed to pass without any attempt on our part to press this subject on the consideration of Parliament. And I admit that after that lapse of time my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton is perfectly justified in endeavouring to obtain an expression of opinion by the House, and in forcing upon us the responsibility of taking a decided course on the matter. I think the point my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General was most anxious to bring before the House was this—that we must not be parties to inducing the House to act with false pretences, or with expectations that we think cannot be sustained. The speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, if I understood it rightly, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge and other Gentlemen, proceeded on the supposition that by enforcing the forestal rights of the Crown we had it in our power effectually to prevent the enclosure of Epping Forest. Now, I am bound to say I wish I could affirm that proposition. I am not able, as advised by the best authorities, to affirm it. Up to what point, then, has my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton proved his case? I think he has shown that it is the duty of the Government to move in the matter, and to make themselves in good faith the advocates and champions of the desire of Parliament that everything which is practicable shall be done for the purpose of preserving for the enjoyment of the people of London whatever can be preserved. There are questions with regard to cost, questions with regard to the source from which the cost should be defrayed, on which it would be premature for me at this time to enter. The general principle on which in these matters Parliament has endeavoured, and I think rightly endeavoured, to proceed is this—That the metropolis itself should be responsible—I mean the property of the metropolis—for all that 265 appertains to the enjoyment of its people. But this, I admit, is a case which assumes a peculiar aspect from its previous history; and I do not, therefore, at this moment, enter into the question whether it is necessary for us, in this instance, to act upon that principle in its full breadth and rigour. What I acknowledge is that it is our duty to take this matter in hand. And if it be our duty so to do, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton will agree with me in the opinion that we shall probably be able to exercise the soundest discretion in the choice of the means for attaining the end we wish to reach, provided we are not compelled too much to enter into a discussion of details on the present occasion. We have stated frankly that we doubt whether we could attain that end through courts of justice by the assertion of the forestal rights alone, and I think I am almost falling short of what was said by my learned Friend the Solicitor General. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Brighton has reminded us—although he referred to it for another purpose—that the forestal rights of the Crown over a part of the land were sold to parties for £18,000; and if they were sold in respect to a part of the Forest for that sum, it is fair to assume that the Crown's forestal rights over the rest still remain and are of some value. Our duty, therefore, evidently will be to make as much as we can of whatever value they may possess; and all I ask of my hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett) is this—I do not go so far as to ask him to withdraw his Motion, but I beg that the form of it may be altered, and that it may not specifically bind and confine us not merely to prosecute the end in view, but to prosecute it by a mode of proceeding with regard to which we greatly doubt whether it can be successful and effectual. My hon. Friend's Motion as it stands is—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to defend the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, so that the Forest may be preserved as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.Well, I do not want to abandon the rights of the Crown; but I think it would be better, if the House is so pleased, to leave the matter in our hands, to leave open to us the choice of means for the execution of the task, which I 266 must frankly admit, I think we are, under the circumstances, bound to take in hand and prosecute. What I would suggest is this, that the words—"be graciously pleased to defend the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, so that the" be omitted, and for them be substituted, "take such measures as in Her judgment She may deem most expedient, so that Epping Forest may be preserved, &c." As far as refers to the end in view, there will be no change if this be done, and as far as refers to the course of proceeding, it will be our duty when we have looked into the matter, to report to the House, and subject ourselves to its judgment with respect to the choice of the means to be adopted. I do not suggest these alterations in my hon. Friend's Motion in any hostile sense, and, indeed, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree to the suggestion I now make. I therefore beg to move that Amendment in the Motion of my hon. Friend.
To leave out the words "be graciously pleased to defend the rights of the Crown over Epping Forest, so that the," in order to insert the words "take such measures as in Her judgment She may deem most expedient in order that Epping,"—(Mr. Gladstone,)
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he accepted, with the utmost pleasure, the Amendment of the Prime Minister, and begged very sincerely to thank him for it. No doubt, after what the Prime Minister had said, sooner or later, those rights must come into a court of justice; but, before that time, he hoped his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General would pluck up a little more spirit, and show a little more heart than he had exhibited that evening.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words inserted.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will take such measures as in Her judgment She may deem most expedient in order that Epping Forest may be preserved as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.